Tokyo stocks tumbled more than three percent on their first trading day of 2016, hit by weak China data and a rise in the yen driven by growing tensions in the Middle East. China's factory activity shrank further in December, a private survey showed Monday, the 10th consecutive month of contraction with the world's number two economy set to post its weakest growth in a quarter of a century.
The news hammered the mainland Chinese markets, which were halted for the day on Monday after shares tumbled seven percent. The drop also came as measures introduced to curb China's mid-2015 share slump are about to expire. "We were starting to see signs that the economic slowdown in China had run its course, so today's report was a disappointment," Masayuki Otani, chief market strategist at Securities Japan, told Bloomberg News. "The Saudi Arabia and Iran issue might be good for oil, but the increase in geopolitical risk means it's an overall negative for the financial markets."
Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with its old foe Iran Sunday after protesters ransacked its embassy in Tehran in response to the execution of a Shiite cleric. The developments are the latest to inflame the region and add to a list of negative news that hurt world markets over the past year, including China's economic malaise, plunging oil prices and anaemic global growth.
On Monday the benchmark Nikkei 225 index at the Tokyo Stock Exchange dropped 3.06 percent, or 582.73 points, to close at 18,450.98. The broader Topix index of all first-section shares tumbled 2.43 percent, or 37.63 points, to 1,509.67 by the close. In currency markets the dollar fell to 119.36 yen, its lowest level since October, from 120.27 yen Thursday in New York. The drop was driven by investors moving into the yen, which is seen as a safe haven in times of turmoil and uncertainty.
But a strong yen hurts the profitability of Japanese exporters and dents demand for their shares. At the close, Toyota dropped 2.01 percent to 7,337 yen, Sony fell 1.49 percent to 2,937 yen and Uniqlo-operator Fast Retailing, a market heavyweight, tumbled 4.66 percent to 40,650 yen.
Nintendo shed 0.59 percent to 16,655 yen. However, scandal-hit Toshiba rose 2.04 percent to 255 yen on hopes for its turnaround plan following an embarrassing profit-padding scandal. Auto parts supplier Takata soared 13.75 percent to 918 yen after the Sankei daily said Japanese automakers are mulling a joint investment in the troubled firm. Takata, embroiled in a global exploding airbag crisis linked to several deaths and scores of injuries, saw its shares lose 56 percent last year.